HIRE-ZAKE (HIRE-SAKE) - There's A What In My Sake?
I am a sake purist at heart - always have been! That said, and please don't tell my sake gurus, I am a sucker for fugu! Fu-who? Fugu. Commonly referred to as blowfish. Yes, the same fish that if prepared incorrectly will kill you. (There are 5-10 "death by fugu" each year in Japan. A result of the liver being pierced and added to the mix, which should not happen)
Hire-Sake quite simply is heated sake with a blowfish fin added to it. First visualize a blowfish! Fat with those two side wings/fins that look completely ineffective as a stabilizer for such a portly fish. They take these fins, grill it, and then add them to atsu-kan (piping hot sake) that is served in a cup with a lid. Heating is the key, because the fin itself needs to really steep in the sake. Thus the lid, which you should leave on for two or three minutes after you have been served. The result is a super savory flavor that is extremely addictive. Sort of like a cross between sake and soup! But it is still very clean, and I have had much more success with dryer sakes that have a higher amino acid count.
What you mean SafeWay doesn't sell fugu fin? In Japan, despite sake connoisseurs frowning on hire-sake, there is demand enough that they sell airtight packs of dried fugu fin in most major markets. Also the big food courts of the major retailers will sell fresh fugu fin, which I find is not vastly better than the dried ones. If you have a friend going to Japan add this to your wish list.
Finally, I am reminded of a time when I was in Osaka and went to a sushi bar under the tracks! At one end of the bar there was a pillar/pole that went to the ceiling. This pole had a thick rope wrapped all the way around the length of it. In the creases of the rope there were little skewers sticking out with dried fish on each skewer. Small little fish that looked like grilled trout (about three inches long) were poking out this way and that. I asked the chef if he had Hire-Sake, and he said that he had something better! He proceeded to pick one of the little dried grilled fish on a stick and made Hire-Sake out of it. He served it the same way that I was used to with fugu fin, piping hot with a lid to steep the flavor. Honestly, the taste was amazing, light and savory! So I leave it to your imagination and that of your local sushi chef to try and make Hire-Sake out of a dried grilled fish of choice if you don't have a pocket full of dried fugu fin like I do!